Agent Orange
The Soapbox, Wilmington, August 26
by Stephen Slaybaugh

Midway through a week spent soaking up the sun, swimming in the surf and lying on the sand of Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina, it came as a happy surprise to find out that Agent Orange would be playing in nearby Wilmington at the Soapbox, a venue that’s half rock club and half laundromat. The band’s classic surf/skate punk seemed the perfect nighttime reprieve from beach life, as well as a nice nostalgia trip for those of us spending our time in the mid-80s doing ollies and rail-slides.

The night began with three fairly decent, but rudimentary, local punk acts, a couple hours that might have been better spent washing my trow in the facilities downstairs. As it was, my sunbaked brain needed something more than these by-the-numbers punters could provide. (The names have been withheld to protect the not-so innocent.) That’s where Agent Orange came in, though it was well past the witching hour when they finally hit the stage. Of course it’s not the same band from it’s heyday, though depending on when you pinpoint the band’s pinnacle, it hasn’t been for sometime. Vocalist and singer Mike Palm remains the band’s centrifical force, while bassist Perry Giordano and, particularly, drummer Dusty Watson are more than ample auxiliary.

Kicking off with a cover of the Dick Dale classic “Miserlou,” the band played a set that at little more than 60 minutes may have been short on time, but not content (around two dozen songs). Most of Agent Orange’s best material never tops the two-minute mark, and there was plenty of it. From early numbers like “Living in Darkness” and “Bloodstains” to cuts from ‘86 classic Here Is the Voice like the breakneck “I Kill Spies,” the band ripped through its back catalog without a moment’s hesitation, as well as an impeccable cover of “Secret Agent Man” on double-speed. Palm showed he has equal love of the surf rock of the ‘60s and the amphetamine amplified rock blitz of classic Ramones, melding the two to different degrees as he went. A lack of fervency might have been detectable here and there (kind of to be expected playing to a half-full room on a Wednesday night), but that didn’t slow or dampen what was coming out of the P.A. After playing what was fittingly expected to be the closer, “The Last Goodbye,” the band finished much as they began with a run through “Pipeline,” Palm expertly channeling Dale’s spirit. Agent Orange didn’t so much bowl me over as simply meet my lack of expectations, dolling out the best they had to offer.